Johaan Neem is a historian of education at Western Washington University. He has written two articles about Common Core, setting the standards in historical context.


The linked article appears in The Hedgehog Review. The other is published in Teaching American History, a publication of the Organization of American Historians, which is online here. I will briefly summarize both.


Neem is concerned that the CCSS reduces education to college and career readiness, ignoring the civic, aesthetic, and humanistic goals of education. He notes that academics and practitioners were left out of the standard-setting process and replaced by people from business and the testing industry. The overwhelming emphasis on the economic purposes of education is documented in David Coleman’s various statement.


Neem explores how CCSS is likely to affect history teaching. He notes that there will be more reading of informational text, which might benefit history. But he sees the danger of “close reading,” which requires reading without context. This is antithetical to historical thinking, because no chunk of text can be understood without context. The historian insiders the times in which text is written, why the text was written, its audience, its impact. None of this is possible without context.


Neem neither praises not condemns the standards, but he is clearly concerned about their narrow utilitarian focus.